By Teresa L. Benns
SAGUACHE — Eight years ago, Saguache County became one of the first locations in the U.S. to fully confront the possibility of a cyberattack on voting equipment that could successfully lead to a thrown or hacked election.
The culprit for the compromised election the night of Nov. 2, 2010 was identified as the M650 voting device, manufactured by Elections Systems and Software, (ES&S). Cybersecurity experts Braun and Blaze, who helped organize the Voting Village at this year’s DEF CON cybersecurity conference, recently described the M650 as possessing “numerous vulnerabilities,” which they say ES&S knew about a decade ago. “Event organizers said the Model 650 vulnerabilities are especially problematic because states use the machines to processes ballots for entire counties” (https://www.politico.com/story/2018/09/27/hacking-voting-machines-814504)
One of the reasons ES&S knew about those vulnerabilities is because a group of Saguache County citizens, led by then-Aspen voting integrity activist Marilyn Marks, forced ES&S to examine their equipment and try to identify what caused the malfunctions found on that election night in November 2010.
Marks is currently in Georgia where since 2016 she has been involved in examining the problems in the Georgia 2016 general election. She is now the executive director of Coalition for Good Governance, which sued the state of Georgia to force the secretary of state there to switch from DRE (touchscreen) machines used in the November 2016 election to paper ballots.
She recently lost the suit but continues to defend the constitutional rights of voters in the state to a “fair, accurate and verifiable election process.” The judge deciding the case noted Georgia, the first state in the country to adopt direct-recording electronic (DRE) touch screen machines in 2002, is now one of only five states in which electronic voting is entirely paperless— with no independent paper ballot or audit record— according to an Associated Press report.
While in Colorado, Marks also addressed the problems with DREs, known to mysteriously switch votes from one candidate to the other.
The 2010 Saguache County election that found Republican candidates winning on election night and Democrat candidates (most notably County Clerk Melinda Myers, who was then in office and counting votes) winning the next day. The resulting controversy and lawsuits surrounding the election kept Saguache County citizens in suspense for three years.
Fortunately, former County Clerk Carla Gomez, and current County Clerk Trish Gilbert saw to it that Saguache County updated their voting systems to a reliable electronic device for tabulating votes. But given the fact that the M650 is still in use in other locations around the nation and still capable of being manipulated by the unscrupulous, a reminder of what happened eight years ago is a timely reminder of what still may happen in other states. The following is taken from Center Post-Dispatch articles written in 2010 and 2011.
Election night logs
The election was off to a bad start Tuesday Nov. 2, 2010 after an initial log-in to the laptop at 12:34 p.m. to upload, count and print early voting (“Group 2”) results. This was presumably conducted by clerk’s office staffer Christian Samora. “To start uploading early voting results before the close of the polls is very bad practice,” Aspen vote integrity advocate Marilyn Marks said. Additional reports also were printed at 5:36 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. before the 7 p.m. poll closure deadline. Marks said the tabulation of early results could have allowed Saguache County Clerk Melinda Myers to see how she and other candidates were doing in the election.
Once counting officially began following the close of the polls, things quickly became confusing. The first batch of ballots selected for counting at 7:10 p.m. were the early voting ballots. The ballots appear to be counted over and over again, registering “forced” on the log.
At 8:30 p.m., “Group 3” or mail-in ballots were counted and added as precinct reports came in throughout the evening. Eventually these first totals appeared to be entirely erased, starting over from zero, when the “replace” command was entered at 12:59 a.m., for all counted precincts. At certain points, reported totals in the report vary from the actual count, and in one instance they vary by nearly 450 votes.
At 1:14 a.m. tallies for Prec. 5 (Crestone) are replaced again, resulting in different totals. Some of the discrepancies can be “explained” by the reported overwriting of files that occurred around this time, but other (and later) discrepancies are not so easily explained.
Nov. 3-5 and Nov. 8 log entries — suspicious activity
When the Unity system or the M650 system is in use — whether uploading, tabulating or report writing — the Secretary of State (SOS) security rules require that witnesses be present and that the events be recorded on video surveillance cameras. Special security precautions are mandated because of the numerous documented security weaknesses in the M650/Unity system.
Although Myers, in earlier public reports, claimed that election workers never used the Unity software on the laptop after Nov. 2, 2010, scores of log entries appear on Nov. 3 and Nov. 8, using the tabulation and reporting capabilities of the system. Entries were made during the SOS review of the Nov. 5 retabulation on Nov. 15-16 and entries also were made Nov. 17 following the departure of the SOS.
Nov. 3 entries show that once again, tallies for all precincts were replaced, changing the totals. Curiously, the laptop system comes on at 10:25 a.m., Nov. 3, reverts to the Nov. 2 date showing a time of 10:32 a.m., then reverts back to Nov. 3 at 10:33 a.m. Some believe this indicates either a major software malfunction or deliberate tampering. That day the machine ran until 3:21 p.m. Several instances of “all precincts,” run in either replace or reset mode are listed on the report.
On Nov. 4, another time-stamp mystery appears. The system is entered at 8:06 a.m. to print “group detail” to the election software run on the laptop. Inexplicably, the next chronological entry occurs at 7:17 a.m. Nov. 3, when the program is exited.
There is no record on the log for any activity on the system for the morning of Nov. 5. This despite the fact that clerk’s office staffer Samora is clearly seen in video surveillance records operating the laptop, transferring information between the laptop and memory cards and running and printing the reports that morning prior to the retabulation.
On Nov. 8, Clerk Myers and Samora conducted a precinct count. Former Center Town Clerk Bill McClure and County Assessor Candidate Jackie Stephens were present during the event. No one was notified that the count, which typically is part of the election-day process, would be conducted that day. No Canvass Board members, Republican Party officials, Democrat judges or watchers were present.
This operation began at 8:58 a.m. and log entries were run for a total of nine pages, including one blank page in the middle of the Nov. 8 report. By way of comparison, the entire Nov. 2 General Election report only runs four pages. There are numerous listings of replaced, reset and updated tabulations in the log on Nov. 8.
At 9:42 a.m., after replacing the tabulations in all precincts, the Unity System clock returned to or was returned to 8:50 a.m., preceding even the 8:58 a.m. starting time entered on the log. The tabulation of the precinct totals then began all over again.
The entire database was reset at 1:18 p.m. erasing any record of the Nov. 2 election tabulation and Nov. 5 retabulation. An error message also was sent. Shortly afterwards, a blank page appears, (1:39 p.m.). The Nov. 8 report ends and the system was exited at 3:07 p.m.
Another blank page appears on Nov. 16 at 12:25 p.m. during the SOS supervised review of the Nov. 5 retabulation. Report activity starts up again on Nov. 17 at 8:04 a.m., with numerous listings of election summary results saved in the Unity system and printed from the machine. Activity ends at 9:41 a.m.
It resumes on Nov. 19 at 10 a.m. printing out the entire log and exiting at 2:11 p.m. On Dec. 3 Clerk Myers or one of her staff members reset the entire database, again wiping out the entire tabulation of votes.